- Katie Ashley
- Atlanta, GA, United States
- I am the New York Times, USA Today, and Amazon Best Selling author of The Proposition, Proposal, Music of the Heart, and Nets and Lies. I am represented by Jane Dystel of Dystel and Goderich for all books except for Proposition and Proposal.
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- ► 2014 (22)
- ▼ April (4)
Sunday, April 28, 2013
Here's some more Don't Hate the Player for you before Tuesday's release. Hope you enjoy it. You can read Chapter One here: http://katieashleybooks.blogspot.com/2013/04/chapter-one-of-dont-hate-player.html
I spent the rest of the afternoon walking in the thicket of woods behind my house. I didn’t want anyone seeing me in my manic state. I cried, I screamed, I kicked down a dead tree, and I laughed as old random memories flickered through my mind. I don’t know why I thought I could escape to the woods and leave my grief behind as easily as stripping off my clothes or something. Suffocating and somber, it hung around me—a silent specter taunting and goading me. It draped over me like a heavy coat, weighing me down. The usually easy trek up the small hills felt like trudging through thick mud. My chest constricted so tightly every breath was agonizing. While over and over in my mind, the words echoed Jake is dead. Jake is dead. Jake is dead.
When I finally swept through the back door shortly before six, I found my mom pacing around in the kitchen. She was out of her usual blue or green scrubs along with her pristine white doctor’s coat. Instead, she wore one of her dark and somber “funeral dresses”. With her long, dark hair swept back in a twist, it made her blue eyes, which were sparkling with tears, stand out. I’d barely made it two more steps before she leapt at me, wrapping her arms around me. Her wet cheeks dampened my shirt, and I knew then she had been crying for a long time. “Oh Noah, when I heard, all I could think about was what if it had been you. Just the thought of losing you…” her voice choked off with her sobs.
“I know,” I croaked, although I wasn’t sure I did. Patting her back absentmindedly, I tried in my own fumbling way to comfort her.
“Thank God, you’re all right.” She then began rubbing comforting circles over my back just like she had done my entire life when I was hurt physically or emotionally. “I’m so sorry, sweetie,” she murmured over and over in my ear.
I pushed myself away from her, giving her skeptical look. “Oh, come on, Mom. You know you hated Jake.”
“That’s not true!” she protested.
I cocked one eyebrow at her. “Really?”
“Okay, maybe I disliked what he became later in life, but I never hated him,” she admitted.
I knew that was probably closer to the truth. She hated that Jake as a manwhoring player because it hit too close to home with her when it came to my father.
Mom exhaled a sad, defeated sigh. “I like to think of Jake when he was younger—that mischievous little boy with the crooked grin.” A hesitant smile played on the corners of her lips. “Remember when you guys were little how he always acted like Eddie Haskell from those old Leave it to Beaver reruns whenever he was around me?”
I couldn’t help laughing. Before he hit puberty, Jake was forever helping her carry in groceries, straightening up the kitchen, or telling her she looked pretty or smelled nice. Basically, he hung on to her every word like a lovesick puppy.
But then the way my mother felt about Jake began to change when we got to high school. It was then that that Jake informed me my mom was a MILF. I was well acquainted with the term from the movie American Pie. The moment the words left his lips I almost punched his face in. So what if it’s a well-known fact my mother is beautiful? She’s a dead ringer for the late Elizabeth Taylor. So much so, that all her friends nicknamed her Liz, which wasn’t too far off since her middle name was Elizabeth. Growing up, I never got the analogy since my only frame of reference was the old chick in the really airbrushed White Diamonds perfume commercials. My mom’s mom, or Grammy as I call her, swears when I was three, I saw one of Elizabeth’s earliest movies, National Velvet, on TV and cried, “Mommy!”
It wouldn’t have mattered to me if she looked just like Angelina Jolie cause no self-respecting male wants to acknowledge the fact their mom is hot. It’s freakin’ sick and warped.
Mom snapped me out of my thoughts. “Did you hear me, Noah?”
“I spoke with Jake’s mom earlier while you were gone to the woods. She wanted you to come over tonight.”
Shit. That explained Mom’s mourning attire. Damn, the last thing on earth I wanted to do was go over to Jake’s house and face his parents.
Mom noticed my hesitation. She ran her hand over my cheek. “It would mean a lot to Mrs. Nelson, Noah.”
I nodded. “I’ll go change.”
“When you get done, come help me load the car, okay?” She motioned towards the table that was loaded down with food for the Nelson’s.
“Whatever,” I replied, and then pounded up the stairs.
I knew that deep down my mom hated Jake because he reminded her too much of my father. Though I guess sperm donor would be a better way of describing my dear old dad. You see, my mom got pregnant with me when she was seventeen. It was a major shock to everyone considering my mom was the angel of the family. As the only girl with five brothers what the hell could you possibly get away with anyway?
My uncles were legendary at Creekview High School. They were known as the Mighty M Sullivan’s because of their athletic ability. There wasn’t a sport there they didn’t dominate, and surprisingly, they each had one that was their specialty. Mark was a Golden Glove in baseball, Mike was the quarterback of the football team, Matt was an all-state guard in basketball, Mitch was a wrestler, and Mason was lighting in track.
By the time my mom entered high school, their reputation was enough to steer every horny asshole away from her. Once any panty chaser found out she was Maggie Sullivan, they ran the other way with their tail between their legs. But it really didn’t matter to my mom because she was the ultimate goody girl, Straight A’s, National Honors Society, Academic Team—any brainiac thing, she did it because she had her eye set on medical school and becoming a doctor.
Like Jake, Joe Preston was a major player A real smooth operator who weaseled himself into the good graces of all my uncles and my grandparents and made the entire family believe he walked on water. He was my Uncle Mark’s best friend all through high school, and then they both ended up at the University of Georgia with a full ride in baseball.
By senior year, Joe and my Uncle Mike were both being scouted by major league teams. Because his family wasn’t the lovey dovey type that my mom’s was, Joe spent occasional holidays at the house—a Thanksgiving, an Easter, an odd weekend here or there. But this time, he spent the entire month of August at my grandparents’ cabin in the mountains.
Now my mother’s never told me any of this. All my information has come from my uncles or older cousins over the years. The way they told the story read like some NC-17 rated fairy tale: oversexed wolf charms innocent lamb resulting in an unexpected pregnancy.
I guess it goes without saying that at twenty-one with a major league career ahead of him filled with money, fast cars, parties and women my dad wasn’t ready to settle down. He bolted, and basically he’s never looked back.
Sometimes I personally think it’s easier for some kids to have a dead beat dad. Yeah, the pain is there, but you can push it to the backburner cause you don’t see the asshole much. For me, my douchebag dad was shoved in my face constantly. The worst was April through October—the months of the major league baseball season. I had to see and hear my father’s stats constantly. Even now at thirty-eight, he’s still one of the most sought after pitchers in the National League. He’s currently playing for the San Diego Padres, but he’s been with some of the biggies all over the country.
So for a while my mom was the black sheep of the family. A kind of conspicuous black sheep who had been the Salutatorian of her graduating class and was slated to start medical school. But she didn’t remain that way for long for two reasons. One was that my Uncle Matt went on a mission trip to Brazil, met a girl, and got married all within eight weeks. To my very Southern, old-school family, marrying a foreigner was some pretty heavy shit. But just like my mom, they got over it. That’s where my cousin, Alex, comes in, or I guess I should say Alejandro Matthew Sullivan. Seriously, there’s nothing like a Brazilian Irishman! Of course, Alex has always been more of a brother to me than just a cousin. We didn’t go to the same elementary or middle schools, but luckily by the time high school rolled around, we were back together. Jake took an instant liking to Alex, and during the summers, we were a lot like the Three Musketeers hanging out together.
The other reason was my mom worked her ass off to make her dream of becoming a doctor a reality. Fortunately for her, one of the best medical schools in the country, Emory University, was practically in her backyard. Because of her love of babies, she became an OB/GYN, and she was now part of one of the biggest practices in town.
My eyes rolled towards the ceiling as I thought about how Jake always found my mom’s profession fascinating. Whenever I would shrug my shoulders and be like, “So?”
He’d roll his eyes. “Dude,” he’d say. “Don’t you get the beauty of it? She looks at tits and ass all day long!”
Yeah, that was Jake.
At the thought of him, the burning ache I was growing accustomed to seared its way through my chest like bad heartburn after an all-night beer and pizza binge. He wouldn’t be making any more pervy comments about my mom being a MILF or that she specialized in looking at vaginas.
Because he was dead.
I shook my head wildly back and forth so fast I thought I might get whiplash. No, I couldn’t start with the bullshit emotions again. I had to keep it together, especially now that Mom was dragging me over to Jake’s house. Just the thought of being over there without Jake sent a shiver down my spine. There hadn’t been a single time in my life that I’d been over there without him.
With a heavy sigh, I dragged myself over to the closet. Swinging open the door, I stepped inside and scanned the racks. I knew Mom wanted me looking nice and respectable, so I grabbed a pair of khaki pants and a nice blue button down shirt. After I slicked my usually out-of-control dark hair back, I hurried back downstairs and met my mom in the kitchen.
Rolling a silver tube of lipstick across her lips, she nodded in approval at the sight of me. “You always look so handsome in blue,” she mused. “It brings out those beautiful blue eyes.”
“Whatever, Mom,” I grumbled as I eyed the feast on the table. “So, when did you do all this?”
She smiled shyly. “I didn’t. Grammy did.”
I picked up the Pot Roast and nodded. I hadn’t seriously considered Mom had done the cooking. Besides the fact she had some crazy batshit hours, she’d also never quite learned to cook like her mom, the fabulous Southern diva who put Paula Deen to shame.
By the time we finished loading, the back of my mom’s SUV was packed with food. Mom closed the hatch and threw me a glance. “Ready?”
I wanted to say, “Ready? Are you freakin’ crazy? There’s nothing on earth I want to do less than going to Jake’s house!”
But instead, I gave Mom a weak smile. “Yeah, let’s go.”
I drew in a deep breath as I rang the doorbell. Jake’s older brother, Jonathan, answered it. With a nod of his head, he then gave me a slight smile. “Hey Noah. Ms. Sullivan,” he said politely. He then swung the door open for us.
We exchanged a sort of awkward hug—the kind guys give who are afraid of showing too much emotion. He was just two years older than Jake so most of the memories I had with Jake were connected to Jonathan too. I guess I connected with him more than Jason, their oldest brother. Like a true middle child, Jonathan did the sports thing, but he also played the drums in a band. He and I used to have some awesome jam sessions until Mr. Nelson would run us out of the basement for being too loud.
He was a sophomore at Georgia Tech where Jake and I had been accepted. I guess he’d made it home as soon as he’d heard the news. Jason, on the other hand, was a senior at Duke, and I knew it would take him awhile to catch a plane.
Mom and I didn’t wait for Jonathan to lead us. We headed through the foyer, past the living room, towards the kitchen. I knew the layout by heart. Jake had lived in the same house the entire time we’d been friends, so I probably could have made it blindfolded. Until we’d moved out of my grandparent’s house two years ago, Jake and I had lived two streets over from each other—just a short walk or bike ride away. The hours, minutes, and seconds I’d spent in this house were too innumerable to count. Every room, every floorboard and practically every wall held a memory connected to Jake.
Mom and I were just putting the food down on the table when a voice behind me made me jump. “Noah,” Mrs. Nelson said in a somewhat strangled voice. I whirled around to see her standing at the edge of the living room. She suddenly looked a lot older than I remember. Her blonde bob looked grayer, and there were blackened circles under her usually warm hazel eyes.
She didn’t have to beckon me to go to her. Instead, I crossed the rest of the kitchen in two long strides. As she pulled me into her arms, I whispered the only thing I could think of into her ear. “I’m so sorry.”
She hugged me tight against her—as if she was afraid I might disappear or get away from her. And then she lost it. Her body shuddered so hard that it shook the both of us. I bit down on my lip, willing myself not to cry. I couldn’t do that to her. I had be strong for her because men are supposed to be strong, right? They’re not supposed to collapse in hysterics like flamers.
Towering over her petite form, Mrs. Nelson’s breath hovered over my chest. “You were such a good friend to him, Noah. You can’t possibly know how much he admired you and appreciated your friendship. He really…loved you.”
I tensed in her arms as the metallic taste of blood rushed into my mouth. I’d bit down so hard on my lip that I’d drawn blood. Please God, make her shut up! Then I realized more than I wanted her to stop talking, I wanted her to let me go. I wanted to get the hell out of there and never look back. But I couldn’t. My feet were rooted to the floor.
Finally after what seemed like a painfully agonizing eternity, she let her arms drop from my waist. Her body went limp like a deflated balloon. I steadied her and helped her over to a chair by the table. Mom sat down beside her and took Mrs. Nelson’s hands in hers.
Jonathan hung back in the doorway. When our eyes met, I knew he could see right through me. Past the bullshit tough guy exterior to the candy ass who didn’t know how to handle his emotions. But then again, he was the same way. He didn’t bother going to comfort his mother. He hovered as if one false step could be his drop off into emotional chaos.
I wanted to laugh—manically—at the pure stupidity of it all. I mean, my best friend and Jonathan’s brother had just died, but neither one of us were willing to give ourselves over to the grief. Neither one of us were willing to shed one ounce of our assumed masculinity to show emotion. What did that say about our feelings for Jake? Could we not afford him a tear? Maybe a little sob? I thought back to earlier that day when I’d actually let my guard down. But I realized it was a sham. I’d only shed tears for Jake when I was sure no one was around to see me crying. Then I’d been scared to death that Avery would see me, so I’d even gone to the extreme of running away.
Yeah, I was a bastard.
Mrs. Nelson’s voice brought me out of my self-deprecating tirade. “Noah, Mr. Nelson, Jonathan, and I have been discussing the funeral plans. We want you to sing Free Bird. It was Jake’s favorite, and we think—well I know—that’s what he’d want.”
I didn’t know what to say. Sure, I’d sung Free Bird millions of times. I’d even sung it around Jake dozens of times—usually when he was highly inebriated. Course, he never failed to find a cigarette lighter and hold it up throughout the song while slurring through the lyrics with me. It became a competition between him and my old hound dog, Boo Radley, to see who could howl the loudest—Jake usually won.
But Jake wouldn’t be howling this time. I’d be singing it in front of a packed crowd of mourners at his funeral. Damn, it was such intense thought that for a few seconds I couldn’t find my voice. Finally, I replied, “Um, yeah, sure Mrs. Nelson.”
She smiled. “Thank you, sweetie.” She turned to my mom. “I’ve got to get some of Jake’s things together to take down to the funeral home. They said they’d set them up for me before the wake tomorrow. It’s just…”
Mom and I exchanged a glance when Mrs. Nelson trailed off. Mom squeezed her hand reassuringly. Mrs. Nelson wiped the tears from her eyes. “It’s just I can’t bear to make myself go into his room,” she replied in a pained whisper.
“You don’t need to do that, Evelyn. I’m sure Martin or one of the boys will do it,” Mom said.
Mrs. Nelson jerked her head up like a light bulb had gone off in her mind. “Noah, would you mind getting some of Jake’s things together? Jonathan is supposed to go to the airport in a little while to pick up Jason.”
I glanced over at Jonathan. He momentarily wore an expression of pure relief. When he met my gaze, he quickly wiped it away.
What was I supposed to say? “No thank you, Mrs. Nelson. I’d prefer to be a self-centered prick today cause, you know, I’m not really feeling the whole ‘going up and rummaging through my dead best friends stuff’ vibe”.
I didn’t say that. Instead, I tried clearing my throat of the continuous massive lump of emotion that seemed clogged there . “Yeah, I can do that. What exactly do you want?”
“Just some things to set out around the urn. Things that Jake was interested in,” she replied.
I fought the urge to reply, “Why don’t we just decorate the table with condoms, lube, and thongs since that was what Jake was mainly interested in?”
“Like some of his trophies and stuff?” I asked.
“Yes, that would be wonderful. Anything you think Jake would want. You knew him so much better than I did.”
I almost choked over the last line. I wasn’t sure if I really ever knew Jake. Have you ever had friends like that? Friends you spent every waking minute with, but when it came down to it if the police asked you deeply personal questions, you might not be able to answer them? Jake and I were guys—we didn’t let a lot people in. When I wracked my brain, there were maybe five or ten times throughout our friendship that I could remember really seeing his guard down. But who knows, maybe that was enough. Maybe that’s all that anybody had with their friends. And maybe Dr. Phil had screwed a whole generation into thinking we had to “think and feel” too much and “say what we meant”. Ugh.
It was then that Mr. Nelson breezed through the garage door and into the kitchen. He shot an aggravated look at Jonathan. “I thought you would have already left by now. Don’t tell me you’ve managed to forget about picking up Jason?”
Jonathan rolled his eyes. “No, Dad, I haven’t.”
Mr. Nelson clenched his jaw back and forth before speaking again. “Hartsfield-Jackson is gonna be a madhouse this time of day. I would hope in a situation like this, you wouldn’t make your brother wait!”
Jonathan held up his hands in surrender. “Fine, I’m on my way!” He grabbed his keys off the table and swept past his dad with a scowl on his face. After the garage door slammed, Mr. Nelson merely nodded his head at Mom and me. Finally his face softened a little when he glanced at his wife.
“Martin, Noah’s going to help you get together some of Jake’s things to take the funeral home,” Mrs. Nelson said.
“Whatever. I just want to get it over with,” he grumbled. Without another word to me, he stalked out of the kitchen. I practically had to jog to catch up with him at the staircase.
I gotta say I’ve never been a big fan of Jake’s dad. The main reason being he’s a major asshole. Seriously, he’s a chauvinistic jerk-off. He’s one of those macho douchebags who believes his boys came out the womb playing sports, and he expected perfection on the field and court. As I followed him up the stairs, pictures lined the walls of Jake and his brothers playing baseball, football, and basketball from when they were practically in diapers.
Back in the day, Mr. Nelson had been an uber-jock, too. He’d gone all the way in basketball until his senior year when he’d busted his knee, and his hopes of the NBA and his scholarship went down the toilet.
I’ve never thought Mr. Nelson had much use for me since I wasn’t an athlete. He probably considered me a failure to the male species, and I’m sure he harbored questions about my sexuality. To him, I was some artsy-fartsy guitar playing fairy. Like I said, the man was an asshole.
While Mr. Nelson blew through the door of Jake’s room and started snatching and grabbing, I hesitated. Something just didn’t seem right about going in there without Jake. Mr. Nelson glanced back at me. “Coming?” he asked sarcastically.
I nodded and stepped through the threshold. I might as well be a pansy and admit that the memories hit me like a ton of bricks. It was like a harsh kick to the gut—or groin for that matter. I’d never been in this room without Jake. It was like his presence was everywhere.
My stroll down memory lane was interrupted by Mr. Nelson’s gasp. “What the hell?” he demanded.
Oh, shit! I thought. My mind was flooded with possibilities. He’d stumbled onto Jake’s porn collection. Worse, he’d found Jake’s stash of pot. Jake and I had once joked that if something happened to one of us, the other was supposed to go get rid of anything incriminating in our rooms. Great, I’d let him down.
I turned around. “What’s wrong?”
The world slowed to a crawl as Mr. Nelson extended his hand. I drew in a deep breath as he opened his fingers.
I stared at a small, black box. I exhaled slowly since it wasn’t pot, porn, or anything else shock-worthy. But the look on Mr. Nelson’s face caused my breath to hitch. “What is it?”
“You don’t know what this is?”
Duh, would I have asked you if I did, asswipe? I wanted to say, but I managed just to shake my head.
Mr. Nelson sighed and stalked across the room to me. He thrust the velvet box into my hands. I cracked the box, and the sound echoed through the room. A glittering diamond stared back at me. But it wasn’t just any diamond. It was two carats of commitment in a platinum setting.
Wow, even I could tell the man-whore had taste. I didn’t know much about diamonds, but I did know it glittered like it cost a fortune. That made me wonder where in the hell Jake had gotten the coins for such a ring. He was probably dealing drugs for all I knew. Mr. Nelson jolted me out of my thoughts.
“Did Jake have a steady girlfriend?” he asked.
I gave him a dumbfounded look. The words “Jake” and “relationship” just didn’t mix unless it was combined with multiple sexual relationships.
I staggered backwards. The mere fact I was standing in the middle of Jake’s bedroom with an engagement ring in my hand made me dizzy.
“Noah?” Mr. Nelson questioned.
“I’m fine,” I murmured. He continued staring at me, so I cleared my throat. “No, Jake didn’t have a steady girlfriend. I mean, he and Avery were off and on again, and he and Presley…” I glanced up at Mr. Nelson, and he nodded.
“What about this? Do you know what it means?”
He handed me a piece of paper. It was the song lyrics to You Were Always On My Mind. As I read over the lyrics, I remembered a couple of months ago when I’d gotten into Jake’s truck after one of the basketball games.
When Jake cranked the car, music came blasting out of the speakers.
“Dude, what the hell is this shit?” I’d asked.
“It’s Willie Nelson man,” he replied, turning the heater on.
“That’s freakin’ fabulous, but why are we listening to it?”
“Cause I like it.”
“Don’t you think it’s a little hokey?”
Jake grinned. “I like hokey. Besides, it’s my song.”
I snorted. “I thought your song was more 50 Cent’s Pimp or JT’s Sexy Back!”
“Yeah, I am kinda a pimp, aren’t I?” Jake mused. Then he laughed. “No man, you’re wrong. This is a song to warm a girl up.”
I raised my eyebrows skeptically. “Warm one up? I thought all you had to do was look in their direction, and they’d fling their clothes off and fall over.”
Jake laughed. “Usually…but not this girl. She needs a little work, and trust me, it’s sexy as hell.”
I had scoffed at the thought and dropped the subject. Funny, how the most ridiculous conversations could have some deep seeded meaning. Now that I looked back, it was a private moment between two friends—one I wasn’t willing to share.
So, I looked at Mr. Nelson and shook my head.
He opened his mouth to say something, but the doorbell rang. Mr. Nelson rolled his eyes. “That would be Pastor Dan,” he grumbled.
Dan Parker was the pastor of the church Mrs. Nelson attended, and the one Jake had been court-appointed to attend after one of his sophomore year stunts. Well, the judge hadn’t actually mandated he attend church—just the rehabilitation program that Pastor Dan ran for wayward teens who did dumbass things like get drunk and drive a lawnmower naked down to the school and mow grass into the shape of a penis on the football field.
I handed the velvet box back to Mr. Nelson. He glanced at it and then back up at me. “Don’t say a word about the ring to my wife, Noah. Not until we get through all this funeral bullshit.”
Asshole. “Whatever,” I mumbled.
As I went out the doorway, I glanced back at Jake’s room one last time, and then I followed Mr. Nelson downstairs.